Dear Vice Chancellor

A letter written by Cicatrice and fellow University of Sheffield students in response to the creative writing department cuts.

Dear Vice Chancellor Keith Burnett,

 

We are a group of PhD, MA and BA students, university staff and alumni in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. We are very concerned to learn that funding for replacing both the Professor of Poetry and lecturer in Fiction Writing in the department has been withdrawn leaving only one full-time tutor, the poet and academic Dr. Ágnes Lehóczky.

Many of us chose Sheffield for our Masters and PhD studies because we were inspired and encouraged by the excellent teaching we experienced during our undergraduate and post-graduate courses in the English department. Working with Vahni Capildeo, Ágnes Lehóczky, Simon Armitage, Alice Honor Gavin and others has been invaluable, allowing us to develop our craft and creativity in an atmosphere combining academic rigour with imaginative breadth. We were therefore greatly looking forward to working with Professor Denise Riley and were dismayed to learn that she will not, after all, be continuing to work at this university. Furthermore, no replacement is now scheduled for the fiction writer post, left vacant since the departure of Alice Honor Gavin a year ago. We believe that this decision will deter other students from pursuing studies in creative writing at Sheffield to the detriment of the School of English and the university as a whole. We respectfully request that this short-sighted decision be reconsidered.

You once said, Vice-Chancellor, with regard to the hiring of Simon Armitage to the University of Sheffield in 2011, that ‘The School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield provides an excellent quality of education for our students.’ In the knowledge of current decisions we are now forced to question your personal definition of excellence and quality.

Denise Riley is an internationally renowned philosopher and poet with an unparalleled influence on both feminist theory and creative writing today. She has almost fifty years of exemplary publications in both disciplines and poetics itself and has proven to be an engaging, dedicated and inspiring tutor with decades of teaching experience. We were horrified to learn that, despite her commitment to the role and reports of her ‘excellence’ from students on the MA course, she would not be offered a permanent position at the University of Sheffield.  It is a testament to the esteem in which she is held that, on the 27th of April, Sheffield University’s Centre for Poetry and Poetics, in collaboration with Bangor University and UEA, hosted a symposium in honour of Professor Riley, as well as launching an anthology, The World Speaking Back, which pays tribute to her work as a poet and academic. Ninety-four distinguished poets have contributed to this publication, while writers and academics from across the UK spoke at the hugely successful event. 

Were there a suitable replacement for Denise, of which few exist globally, the decision might have been justified, but we are aware that the university will not be hiring anyone to cover either Denise’s current role or the recently departed Alice Honor Gavin’s position as fiction writing tutor. It appears there will now be just one active permanent academic and creative writing staff member in the School of English to oversee all BA, MA and PhD students. This is an impossible workload for any one individual; to expect this of Dr. Lehóczky is absurd and unacceptable. All levels of university education will be impacted by this decision, to the point where it would be dishonest to even claim that the university has an active creative writing department.

When Sheffield Hallam University is offering writing residencies in Canada and Croatia for its BA students, and many other universities in the north like Leeds and Manchester are investing heavily in the future of creative writing tutoring, we’re forced to question why The University of Sheffield is taking so many steps backwards. With The Centre for Poetry and Poetics, Route 57, Blackbox Manifold and alumni-led projects like Cicatrice Journal, Sheffield university creative writing affiliates are making a huge impact both locally and nationally, having collaborated with The Poetry Business, The National Railway Museum and many others. With this shrinkage of staff future projects such as these, which provide students with vital publication platforms as well as editing, producing and publishing experience crucial to many post-graduate careers, will also inevitably be debased. As students, this financial severing has already been felt in the last academic year and will only worsen following these removals without adequate replacement. There is no defensible rationale for not offering Denise Riley a full-time position following Simon Armitage’s hasty departure, nor for Alice Honor Gavin’s role not to be offered to a similarly qualified writer or academic.

Signed below are students, staff members, alumni and other concerned individuals strongly opposed to this butchering which stretches the creative writing department of the university, which was once celebrated, to its breaking point. As a man with ‘special interests’ in culture and poetry, we urge you to reconsider these cuts.

 

Yours sincerely,


 

Samuel Kendall (Cicatrice Journal)    

MA Creative Writing Alumni                     

Rebecca Sandeman (Cicatrice Journal) 

Creative Writing PhD Student                

 

Joe Kriss (Wordlife)                        

School of English Alumni         

 

Geraldine Monk

Poet and University of Sheffield Affiliate              

Katie Smart                                            

MA English Literature Alumni                  

 

Upamanyu Das       

MA Creative Writing Alumni    

Ryan Bramley (WRoCAH)                            

ESRC DTP PhD Student                                 

Ellie Pearce 

MA Creative Writing Alumni      

Lorenza Shabe    

MA Creative Writing Alumni    

Rebecca Watson       

English Undergraduate (1st Year)       

Claudia Downs   

English Undergraduate (3rd Year)      

Aidan Jenner-Green      

School of English Alumni   

Nora Murphy                                  

MA Creative Writing Student 

Hannah Robinson      

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)  

 

Dylan Jones                            

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)              

 

Christina Stimson  

MA Creative Writing Alumni  

 

Huw Williams

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)   

 

Isaac Stovell  

University of Sheffield Alumni                    

 

Lauryn Green                        

English Undergraduate (1st Year)               

Letitia Gaskin                           

English Undergraduate (1st Year) 

Taylor Waddle  

MA Creative Writing Alumni                      

Yioulia Nikolau   

English Undergraduate (1st Year)                

 

Alicia Barnes                              

MA 19th Century Studies Student

 

Grace Cohen    

School of English Alumni                             

Loma Sylvana

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Peter Dorey

Creative Writing PhD

Evie Wilson

MA Creative Writing Student

Daniel Turner

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Lucy Hamilton

Creative Writing PhD

Karl Riordan

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Georgie Beardmore

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Ashley Bullen-Cutting

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Andy Buddery

School of English Alumni

Rich Woodall

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Helen Angell

MA Creative Writing Student

Rachel M Fox

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Ewan Brett

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)

Chad Bentley

Creative Writing PhD Student

Chantelle Campling

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Melissa Bence

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)

Caitlin Thompson

MA English Literature Student

Anya Portus

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)

Joshua Keane

MA Creative Writing Student

Jack Redfern

English Undergraduate (1st Year)

Gary Hughes

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Billy Raine

English Undergraduate (2nd Year)

Tim Plant

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Jenny Donnison

Creative Writing PhD

Vera Fibisan

Creative Writing PhD Student

Matthew Cheeseman (Former Route 57 Editor)

Senior Creative Writing Lecturer (UoDerby)

Alan Halsey

Poet and University of Sheffield Affiliate

Alex Marsh (WRoCAH)

Creative Writing PhD Student

James Roberts

MA Creative Writing Student

Amber McNamrara

Creative Writing PhD Student

Jo Hanlon

MA Creative Writing Student

Amy Kinsman

MA Creative Writing Student

Pete Green

Poet and University Staff

Benjamin Dorey (WRoCAH)
Creative Writing PhD Student

Timothy Moffatt

School of English PhD Student

Ali Hayward

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Christina Stimson

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Margot Wilson

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Imi Davies

School of English Alumni

Nicola Wallace

MA Creative Writing Alumni

Sarah Sharp

School of English Alumni

Nina Ward

MA Creative Writing Student

Russell Dobson

University of Sheffield Alumni

Tara Ghaemi

School of English Alumni

Sophie Hamilton

School of English Alumni

Sam Wadkin

School of English Alumni

Emily France

MA Creative Writing Alumni